Staff grievance

An employee has sent you an e-mail, as their line manager, in which they have listed a number of issues they are “unhappy about” but it’s difficult to tell whether they are simply letting off steam or raising a formal staff grievance. What should you do?


Let’s suppose that an employee has sent you an e-mail in which they’ve set out a number of issues they are unhappy about. For example, it might say something along the following lines:

“I don’t know why other teams have more flexible working than us and to be honest, I am fed up with Sarah constantly talking all day and distracting me from my work and I am feeling undervalued compared to others”.

There are two main possibilities here. Firstly, the employee might have put it in writing in the heat of the moment and may or may not, now regret their decision – in which case, it’s a gripe. Alternatively, as this is a complaint that has been put in writing, it could amount to a formal staff grievance.

It is important that you find out which it is to enable you to manage it appropriately. The easiest and quickest, way to find out is to ask how they view the e-mail and what they intended by it. It is much better, and clearer to ask this in person rather than responding back on email. It is best to do this as soon as possible in case it is intended as a formal staff grievance: any delay in establishing what the next step should be could be seen as unreasonableness on your behalf.

Recommended steps

We would recommend the following steps:

  • Arrange a quick get together, an informal meeting to discuss the contents of their e-mail and agree how to take it forward.
  • In the majority of cases, e-mails similar to our example are sent in the heat of the moment and the employee will confirm that they don’t want to invoke your formal grievance procedure.
  • If they do wish to treat it as a formal grievance procedure, you should still invite them to first engage in an informal resolution process – after all, the ACAS Code of Practice recommends that, wherever possible, employers and their employees should both try to resolve grievances informally rather than resorting to formal procedures.
  • If the employee confirms that the e-mail was sent in haste and they don’t want to formalise their grievance, we recommend that you ask them to confirm this position in writing. That way, you’ll have a clear paper trail if anything else happens in the future. On the other hand, the employee may still want to discuss some, or all, of the issues they’ve raised, as may you.
  • Send them a letter acknowledging dealing with the grievance informally (we have one of these on our HR Toolkit) confirming that they don’t want to lodge a formal grievance and agreeing to meet with them again in a few days’ time.

If this, and matters akin to this, concern you, you can call us for an initial no-obligation discussion with one of our HR experts. We can discuss training, HR support or creating templates you can use. Please give us a call to discuss your options on 01473 360160 or book a free consultation here

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